Maize saga turns toxic for Raila

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga is an angry man. And its all because of maize. It seems that everytime he intervenes in Kenya’s staple food, he ends up with flour on his face.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga at a press conference after disputed election results were announced, January 2008.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga at a press conference after disputed election results were announced, January 2008.

It began late last year when maize prices doubled due to drought. After encountering a near food riot in his constituency, Raila began an initiative to supply cheap maize to the poor using the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB). The venture did not take off as the NCPB lacked the skills and the capacity for the massive retail distribution required.

A few months ago, the government decided to import maize to offset the shortages as it became clear that Kenya cannot produce enough maize till 2010. A ship from South Africa sailed into the Kilindini Harbour with thousands of tonnes of maize. However, the maize was found contaminated with dangerous chemicals.

Instead of the ship getting sent away with its toxic cargo, as is normally the case, the maize was offloaded to the Grain Bulk Handlers Ltd warehouses. Claims were made that the maize had been sold in the local market. Raila came out to deny the claims. Over the weekend, tonnes of maize were found in shops across the country with strong suspicions that Kenyans have all along been eating the poisonous food.

Raila has denied claims that he is behind the importation and distribution of the toxic maize, terming the claims as cheap propaganda by his political opponents. Indeed, just last week, Parliament absolved the Prime Minister from blame.

Raila is unable to shake off the maize saga and the burden it is exerting on his political career. Just when it seems to fade away from the public limelight, fresh revelations emerge of his involvement and that of his family. The Odinga dynasty, of which Raila is the current partriarch, has been heavily implicated in the maize saga.

When maize shortages were first experienced in the last few months of 2008, it emerged that Raila’s first born son, Fidel, was among those who exported thousands of tonnes of government maize from the NCPB. In effect, the government found itself without any maize to distribute to hunger stricken families across the country. It is said that the Odingas made millions of shillings in Southern Sudan, where maize sells for almost double the prices in Kenya.

Next came the saga of Grain Bulk Handling Ltd and a debate on whether to allow a second grain handling facility at the port of Mombasa. Grain Bulk resisted the move saying that Kenya did not need a second grain handler and that problems at the port arose from inefficiencies in transportation and documentation. Raila supported Grain Bulk amidst a clamour for a competitor to ease the flow of food imports.

Raila’s stance would not have been controversial if it was not for the appearance of exclusive photographs showing the Prime Minister riding a limousine with Grain Bulk owner, Mohammed Jaffer. Raila later had lunch with Jaffer. It has also emerged that Jaffer was a significant financier to Raila’s presidential bid in the 2007 General Elections.

Now, the Odinga family faces allegations that it is behind the importation of the toxic maize. Raila’s opponents are capitalizing on the discovery of suspected toxic maize in Central and Eastern Kenya – both areas that oppose Raila’s presidential ambitions. The discovery of the maize has given rise to wild rumours among the populace and the rumours certainly do not enhance Raila’s popularity in the two provinces.

Government chemists and the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) are analyzing the product and have declared it safe, but it will take a lot of convincing among the public to calm the fears.

Maize discontent could spark chaos

The Kenyan government’s bungling of the maize crisis is not only a display of sheer incompetence by the national leadership, but is setting the stage for political instability and the eventual collapse of the state.

Agriculture Minister, William Ruto, has worsened maize shortages.

Agriculture Minister, William Ruto, has worsened maize shortages.

Massive discontent is growing among Kenya’s people because the government cannot ensure an affordable supply of maize to the poor. The goverrnment sold most of the maize to speculators.

Intelligence reports indicate that Kenyans are angry with a political class that divides the people along ethnic lines so as to exploit the suffering of the masses. The only reason why a rebel force has not emerged in Kenya is because of ethnic distrust perpetuated by politicians. Most Kenyans are slowly awakening to the tragic consequences of ethnic hatred and regret at having participated in ethnic cleansing last year on behalf of leaders that do not care about their plight.

A bitter election between Kibaki and Raila resulted in violence as both claimed victory. 1,500 died and half a million left homeless between December 2007 and April 2008 in tit-for-tat ethnic warfare between Raila and Kibaki supporters. After the election, the two men formed a coalition that is now the cause of weeping and gnashing of teeth in Kenya. Bitterness with the experience runs so high that people have vowed never to vote again.

Though its been a year since the violence, the economy has not recovered. Majority of the displaced cannot return to their former homes as political leaders continually incite ethnic hatred. However, these politicians are doing nothing to ease the hunger of their own ethnic groups. Instead, the ruling elite is wallowing in group sex orgies. Raila’s first born son is married to a woman from President Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group inspite of Raila mouthing anti-Kikuyu venom whenever he meets his supporters.

Kenyans have become so desperately hungry that families in the countryside are eating wild berries, grass and poisonous tubers. Kenya’s poor are going for three days without eating. Economic productivity has declined as hungry workers prefer staying in bed for lack of energy. Children are dropping out of school to help feed the family. Girls and women are plunging into the murky world of prostitution.

A woman admitted on national television to sending her teenage daughter to have sex in exchange for money to feed the rest of the family. The man of the house is bedridden, too weak to earn a living. The woman sells her daughter for 20 shillings a night (US $0.25). This cannot buy a loaf of bread.

The international community is fully aware of how a greedy political elite is plunging Kenya into destruction. Since 2006, the CIA has warned the US White House that Kenya is becoming a failed state. It was because of CIA intelligence that former US President George W Bush met Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete to discuss the likely effects of Kenya’s implosion on neighbouring states.

It is generally agreed in international circles that Kenya should not be allowed to fail. It is worth noting that Tanzania’s President Kikwete played a leading role in the formation of the Kibaki – Raila coalition ended months of ethnic bloodshed in 2008. With the Tanzania border being close to the cities of Nairobi and Mombasa, Kikwete was worried about a huge influx of Kenyan refugees.

Kenya is host to the only United Nations office in a developing country. The United Nations Office in Nairobi (UNON) coordinates relief, refugee, education, healthcare and development programmes not only for Africa but for Asia and Latin America.

Most diplomats posted to Nairobi are also managing their countries’ interests across East and Central Africa due to Nairobi’s central location in the region. Thus, Kenya is a prime location whose stability is vital to international institutions and foreign missions.

However, diplomats should stop living a lie. Unless there is drastic change in Kenya’s leadership, calamity will befall this beautiful East African country. The most optimistic statistics show unemployment hovering at well above 40%. Transport and communication infrastructure is collapsing. Electricity and water supply are erratic. Organized crime is on the increase as gangs affiliated to politicians extort protection fees from business.

The police are engaging in killings, abduction and torture of those challenging the ruling elite.In addition to killing over 1,000 young Kikuyu men, security officers have been implicated in the abduction and beheading of a journalist in Kisii. The journalist was exposing corruption rackets involving local police.

The country’s rulers are milking the national treasury dry with scam after scam. Money is wasted on obscene salaries that make the Kenyan president earn as much as the US President. Whatever remains is squandered in prestige projects that have no value to ordinary people. The Nairobi City Council is spending millions of shillings building water fountains as 60% of of the city lacks clean water. The government is purchasing an office block for Shs700 million (US $9 million) as it launches an international appeal to feed the starving.

To worsen matters, shortages in maize are caused by devious deals by Kenya’s ruling elite. President Mwai Kibaki’s associates, Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s family, Agriculture Minister William Ruto and legislators across political parties have been implicated in buying and holding large stocks of maize in the hope of higher prices. This will give them huge profits which they will use for campaigns in the 2012 general elections. William Ruto is said to have personally authorized the state-owned National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) to release maize to prominent individuals.

As a result of these activities, maize prices are rising dramatically. A 2 kilogramme packet of maize flour is now selling at 100 Kenya Shillings (US$1.3). These prices are simply out of reach for a country where more than half the population is surviving on less than a dollar a day.

Ironically, while campaigning for the 2007 General Elections, Prime Minister Raila Odinga had waged war against Kibaki for not controlling rising food prices. Back then, a 2 kilogramme packet of maize flour was selling for Kshs65 ($0.8). Raila vowed that, if elected President, he would reduce the price to Kshs30 ($0.38). Though Raila did not win the polls and had to settle for Prime Minister his inability to do reduce food prices has shaken his core support.

A plan that Raila introduced late last year to provide subsidized maize to the poor has fallen flat on its face. Working with his political ally, William Ruto, Raila proposed two sets of maize flour: a government branded package that would sell cheaply and the usual commercial packaging that millers would sell at market rates.

The subsidy plan was politically driven after the Prime Minister was booed in his strongholds. There was no analysis as to the financial viability of the subsidy plan. With the failure of maize subsidy, the government need not worry about the World Bank and IMF breathing fire down their necks. But what is the fate of the ordinary Kenyan for whom the price of food is out of reach?

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